How to narrow down your engineering career of choice

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The work of an electrical engineer.

Engineering is one of the most varied of all professions. One can be an engineer and work with anything from semiconductors and circuit boards to systems for water filtration and purification. The numerous specialization options available to students in the online Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) track at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) reflects the vast variety of the field. MSE students can specialize in bioengineering, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, materials at the nanoscale and data science.

With the variety of options available to engineering students, especially ones with the additional experience and expertise developed through an online engineering degree, where should someone start in narrowing down the possibilities? Let’s walk through what to consider, step-by-step, in making an informed decision about a career in engineering.

What was your bachelor’s degree in?

Graduate-level online engineering degree programs like the UCR MSE generally require a Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng) or a BS in Engineering or a relevant field for admission. Undergraduate programs may allow for some level of specialization; if you have already focused your studies on a specific domain of engineering, then it might make sense to continue that focus into your master’s degree and career. You shouldn’t feel limited by your B.EnG/BS choice, but having that background is often helpful in pursuing a related career.

What type of working environment do you prefer?

Just as engineering covers a wide range of activities and research, it is also performed across a diverse set of working environments. A mechanical engineer might work in the busy, noisy confines of an automobile plant, while a data scientist works in a conventional office space with specialized software for analyzing and organizing information at scale. Moreover, the development of collaboration tools such as video conferencing and VoIP telephony have made remote engineering work more feasible than ever, so it’s worth checking if the professions you’re considering are amenable to flexible working arrangements.

What qualifications do your preferred positions require?

Engineering degrees are available at all levels of postsecondary education, from the associate degree to the Ph.D. Which degree you currently have, and whether you can commit to further education, will determine the careers you can pursue. For example, engineering technicians typically only need an associate degree. These professionals assists engineers in the design, testing and production of systems and products. Becoming an engineer, as opposed to a technician, will require education beyond the associate level. A bachelor’s degree is the entry-level qualification for most engineering professions, and a master’s degree can help unlock additional opportunities to become a manager.

Do you have managerial background and experience?

The UCR MSE, across all of its specializations, is uniquely tailored to give degree candidates the right blend of technical engineering know-how and managerial acumen. Overseeing an engineering team is a core responsibility of many senior positions, and it requires more than simply knowing the ins and outs of engineering systems and how to design them. It takes skills in managing other engineers and collaborating with them, sometimes even across great distances now that remote and mobile working arrangements are widespread. All UCR MSE students complete a quartet of required courses — Engineering in the Global Environment, Technology Innovation and Strategy for Engineers, Introduction to Systems Engineering, and Principles of Engineering Management. This program core covers both technical and managerial concepts so that MSE graduates are well-prepared for post-graduate life.

What specific skills have you honed during your studies?

An engineer wears many hats. In addition to diagramming problems and testing designs, engineers need to communicate with others in their respective organizations and adapt to rapidly changing project requirements. Commonly needed skills for in-demand positions include:

  • Willingness to take the initiative as necessary, e.g. as project lead
  • Knowledge of relevant applications and services (i.e., software)
  • Ability to consistently contribute as a member of a team
  • Proficiency in analyzing different requirements, data and systems from project to project

Earning an MSE from UCR can build and sharpen all of these capabilities. Students have prime opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge during the final capstone project, which takes the place of a required residency or thesis. Capstone work is spread across four 1-credit courses. The end product is a culmination of everything learned in the program, and it can take the form of an engineering invention, documentation of a study or something else. The capstone is designed for flexibility.

Is it practical for you to earn the education you need?

Let’s say you want to become a nanoengineer, but will need to attain additional education first. It isn’t always feasible for a working professional to return to a traditional on-campus environment. The required commute and inflexible course schedule can make it challenging to juggle school alongside other personal and career-related responsibilities. The good news is that an online engineering program like the UCR MSE directly addresses these problems. Students are not required to visit campus at all and can complete all coursework from anywhere they have an internet connection. Plus, the MSE can be completed in only 13 months under an expedited schedule; that’s a much shorter duration than the 2-3 years typical of most master’s degree programs.

What are the growth prospects for your preferred positions?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly updates the statistics in its Occupational Outlook Handbook. Currently, the outlook for engineers is generally similar to or better than the average profession, indicating the value of investing in graduate education so you can pursue advanced positions. With the UCR MSE, you can gain the right assortment of skills as well as the experience necessary for competing for a wide range of jobs. To learn more about how to get started with the UCR MSE, click “program details” ,on the program overview page for a rundown of the admissions requirements. You can also answer a few questions there and get a free copy of our informational brochure.

Recommended Readings:

5 Careers for MS Environmental Engineering Grads

7 Unusul Careers that Begin with an Engineering Degree


How do you decide which engineering career is right for you?